LOS ANGELES, Feb. 28 -- We arrive at "Elton" before midnight in our usual manner, by gray Chevy Cavalier, which we park near Beverly Boulevard and hike the rest of the way up to the enormous, Oz-like Pacific Design Center on Melrose Avenue, but not because of some shame or unresolved feelings of the rental-car underclass. (Hey: We always feel and behave like million-dollar babies, baby, despite our trailer-park backgrounds and the creepy feeling that Grandma watches everything we do from Heaven.)
It's more about this weirdly new sense of Oscar efficiency. Like the svelte awards show earlier in the evening, we are all about getting this after-party reportage done. We're willing to accept our statuette from the aisle. We're willing to skip the line for valet.
Winner Cate Blanchett at the Vanity Fair party. Mere mortals could only gawk, and snap.
(Photos Chris Pizzello -- AP)
We give our name at the entry-maw to a mammoth series of tents at the 13th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation After-Party Sponsored by Chopard, an exclusive gala everyone has learned to call by just one name: Elton. As in, "We go to Elton, then Vanity Fair." You hear this a lot, almost like a mantra: Elton, then Vanity Fair. (Socks, then shoes. First gear, then second gear.)
But don't tell that to glam-pop reinventors the Scissor Sisters, Sir Elton's musical guests for the evening, who had the crowd inside jumping up and down. For them, Elton is the destination. They came and sang and flirted all night, Elton accompanying them on piano. Scissor Sister Ana Matronic reminds the audience that the band got on a plane from Tokyo in the morning to make it to the Oscar party, so really, to them, it's already been tomorrow: "We come from the future," Matronic says. "All I can say is you will love today, and wait till you get to tonight."
Tonight looks pretty good, once you get past the glut at the door, where stars obligingly pose for cameras in front of the usual wallpaper of logo-sponsors. Long gone are the truly glamorous Cocoanut Grove-style parties where people could be photographed with natural backgrounds. Now it's become a moment to promote something -- a magazine, a vodka, a cable channel. The party owns the celebrity, and not the other way around. (Chopard, which foots a big part of the bill for the Elton bash, is the It-moment jeweler -- the one that caused Cameron Diaz and Hilary Swank to reportedly sign exclusive deals and swear off wearing Harry Winston et al.)
Past a red Yamaha commemorative Elton John player piano -- it not only plays "Candle in the Wind" and "Tiny Dancer" but sings them, too! -- and beyond a long bar decorated with columns of pink roses, the main tent is aswirl in the light from disco balls. Nine disco balls, to be exact. Judging from the crowd, the gay entertainment mafia is blessedly intact.
"Clear the way, clear the way!" a man frantically shouts behind us and we see what's coming and think, oh no, some poor elderly woman has fainted and they're wheeling her out. No, wait, it's Elizabeth Taylor. They're wheeling her in, not out, via a sportily low wheelchair. She is clad in seafoam green gown and, as she goes by, it's like she is all head -- just huge black hair and red lips. She is head on wheels, followed by Jose Eber and another 20 glammy busybodies.
After a rousing rendition of "The Bitch Is Back," Sir Elton and his Scissors retreat to a safe zone of sofas, where heavies in black suits and earpieces guard them from -- well, we have to admit it. Most of us at this party are riffraff. Hollywood doesn't want you to know it, but sometimes these events are filled with too much gazing and not enough stars. Many attendees are really just a 37-year-old studio accountant and his vaguely famous-looking, terribly thin 28-year-old wife. They're looking at you trying to figure out who you are, and you're looking at them trying to figure out who they are. And this isn't getting anybody anywhere.
Salma Hayek is on the couch under a beehive hairdo and heavy eye makeup and looks like she's having the same problem, maybe to an existential degree: Why are we here? Who am I? Who are you? What does it all mean?
Pamela Anderson, who has shown up with Christina Aguilera, has no such problems. They pay their respects to Elton, and to Liz, and several people just stand nearby and watch them. "God, I love Pam Anderson," says a woman in a chocolate pantsuit. "I mean, when you really get down to it, she is Barbie. I love her for that. She knows it and she lives it."
Soon enough Anderson and Aguilera depart, with photographer David LaChapelle -- "David, come on, we're going!" Aguilera shouts. We saw Ben Kingsley, Sharon Osbourne, Jacinda Barrett, Al Roker, Josh Groban, John Waters, and if you weren't already sensing a theme here of underwhelment, a rather wallflowerish Harry Hamlin and his wife, Lisa Rinna.
One set of bathrooms has been closed for repairs (the kind of luxury party portajohns that are really RVs -- hey Hilary, a trailer!) and they've run out of Chef Renato Piccolotto's baby New Zealand lamb lollipops (nothing beats walking around a party with a tiny lamb chop in your hand -- they're the new corn dogs). But we've got to say it: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, hello pumpkin time. We're getting that gift bag feeling, which means it's time to get out of here.
So we throw back a handful of exceptionally powerful and tiny breath mints, tuck our shirttails in, and away we go in our rental into the Incredibly. Long. Limo. Line. The black Hummers with the tinted windows are crawling up Robertson to the valet dump at Morton's for the Vanity Fair fete, and we're revving our engine, comeoncomeoncomeon, when we spot a woman in a thigh-length fur coat dashing from stretch to stretch, and we roll down the glass to hear the VF publicist in the pippy British accent saying, "Appalling, just appalling, I know. So sorry. Moving as fast as we can. Just another few minutes and you'll be there."
Final days of Rome, people. Cue Nero.
But then: Arrival. Security. Wanding. Touching. The model slumming as screener with the headset. The List. And: We're in!
Sweet well waters of Babylon. Rushing to the bar, to guzzle a few jars of the freebies, and first up: Sophie Okonedo, nominee for Best Supporting Actress, in "Hotel Rwanda." Sad, isn't it, we think. Genocide is just so wrong. But Okonedo looks fantastic. "Anything like this back home in England?" we ask. "Oh, no, nothing," Okonedo says. We're thinking of something deep to blather about, about the bad Tutsis. Or is it the Hutus?
But the eye wanders . . .
To Paris Hilton, poor little slip of a thing -- someone hacked her Sidekick. Loved her video. (Can't say that.) She slouches. Nobody slouches like Paris. If one wanted to, one could see her pert, fleshy little -- Stop!
Chris Rock. Chris, wow, Jude Law, he isn't coming over for a sushi takeout anytime soon, is he? Rock is with a woman we ascertain is his wife, Malaak, and we adore her immediately, because she looks, like, fame-dazed, her head like a swizzle stick stirring the potent cocktail of celeb-crush fabulousness. "Chris, hey, so how was it?" And Rock pronounces: "It was okay."
That doesn't seem to be enough. Lawrence Bender, the producer behind the Quentin Tarantino oeuvre, crashes our conversation bubble, and is telling Rock, "Just amazing, man," but Rock maintains a strangely studious blase vibe.
Okay. Give the man some air.
Lara Flynn Boyle is pursued by photographers. And we think: Why? So low, the bar. Tom Cruise, in a motorcycle bad boy leather jacket, is hunkered down in the back room. We cannot penetrate his restricted airspace. Vince Vaughn! Hey, we tried to get an interview with you for "Be Cool," out in theaters Friday, but nooooo.
Brad Bird, the chirpy creator of "The Incredibles," is everywhere. People keep asking him to do the voice of Edna Mode, the cartoon fashionista. Sir Ben Kingsley, royalty. Chris Tucker, fevered. Oliver Stone, out in public again after "Alexander." And Kirsten Dunst. Eat something, girl.
Pop. Pop. Pop. Angie Dickinson, Jacqueline Bisset, Faye Dunaway. Mmmeow. Put them on the cover of AARP. Gael Garcia Bernal, in black frames, looks like a hunky (yet wee) Clark Kent, with his Latino posse speaking Spanish.
Sandra Oh. We effuse about "Sideways," and its sweep at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday (where, by the by, we stood in line with Robin Williams, Oscar presenter, who kept trying out his lines, manic as a poodle in the vet's waiting room).
And Oh says, "Oh, it's just been incredible, hasn't it? And I'm so happy for Alexander." That would be Alexander Payne, who won with writing partner Jim Taylor for Best Adapted Screenplay. We tell Payne, bummer re: Paul Giamatti not getting a nomination, and he says, "Paul is great."
Don Cheadle comes. He goes. Here's Donald Trump with Melania. They're married now. She's the tall, silent type. We congrat The Donald on his nups. "Best thing ever happened to me," and he beams. Catalina Sardino Moreno is radiant, in full-tilt Cinderella mode, in the pale white gown with the wide jeweled straps, and we ask her deepest feelings, and she says, "It's like a dream come true," and as corny as it sounds, we believe this receptionist from Colombia. Irony-free, people.
Later she canoodles with her boyfriend at the bar.
We grab a handful of tiny crabby patties and linger, stalkingly, around Hilary Swank, holding court, and realize the best thing about her Guy Laroche jersey-front gown is the back. All the way to China, comrades.
Suddenly, chillingly, the bars shut down. The place, poof, is emptying as fast as guests can shout "valet," and we finally find the mac daddy of the VF party, editor Graydon Carter, splendiferous in plush velvet smoking jacket, size XXXL, who wags a finger, pronounces us "the Proust" of post-Oscar party poop, and in keeping with that spirit, we ink our notes. "Graydon. Meat. Moist. Face." As he hoovers down a catered In-N-Out Burger, Mr. Carter tells us, "There's nothing left for you here, go home." And we do.